Saturday, August 7, 2004

DAY 3 OR 4. or Alternatively Week 1

First of all I have to give an explanation about the timeline. It’s not that I’m getting lazier (although some people have argued – with some good cases I may add - that I am inherently lazy and would try to get away with as little job as possible). If one has been to Yerevan before, one would know that unless you have a regular work schedule throughout the week or have appointments set for every day of the week then it is impossible to keep track of the days.

My first week in Yerevan was full of meetings with former students and colleagues (some of whom were now current friends). The meetings almost always took place at cafés (more specifically at the same café I had met my relative the first night I was in Yerevan) and I was becoming a regular customer there. At one point when I was supposed to meet another of my students and got to the café earlier, one of the waiters asked if he should wait for my company to arrive before bringing the menu! (I love the perceptiveness of the younger generation in Armenia).

Throughout the meetings I slowly started categorizing people into four main groups. The first group was the one including all the optimists. These people are the ones who think that life has been overall good and that things are only set to become better. The majority of people belonging to this group are Diasporans who have either moved here on business and of course living more or less comfortably or those who are ideologically infatuated and could only make the best out of everything. My first encounters have been mostly with people in this category. There’s something interesting about optimism. With the right dosage it could be contagious. Too much of it will just make one bored to tears.

The second group of people are the pessimists. Luckily I didn’t meet too many of those, but still there are quite a few of them who, even though have a relatively good socio-economic condition, they seem to have an negative outlook about things happening around them.

The third category, where most of my acquaintances fall, are the `realists’. Of course one could always argue that if things are bad then the realists could easily fall into the trap of being labeled pessimists. To this group belong two of my favorite people (some would say birds of a feather flock together) one is a former student of mine, who lives outside of Yerevan and the other is a colleague of mine who works at the university. In my meetings with both of them I had a sense that political situation hasn’t been any better for the past several years but both readily admitted that the economy is doing better (not as good as to be labeled a tiger but neither is it a cat). It seems that the relatively good economic performance coupled with the relative not-so-good political performance has created a sense of carelessness about political processes and most of the new generation seems to not care about taking part in government structures.

The last category of people would be the extreme case of those who are mostly apathetic about everything. People in this category seem to have given up any hope on anything and if they have an opportunity they would readily leave the country for `better’ opportunities abroad.

With a steady routine of meetings at night and aimlessly staring at my computer screen during the day (hoping that I’ll be lucky enough to be visited by the Muses) I have developed a sense of belongingness again. After all this is the same city where I worked, lived and socialized for two years. As far as socializing is concerned one could have several options. Musical concerts (although not as frequently because of the summer season), plays, late evening strolls around the city and of course the omnipresent cafés.

It’s amazing to what extent people in Armenia are attached to the café culture. One could even come up with a stereotype of those who are regular café goers. My first experience with this culture goes back to seven years ago when there was a café almost on every street corner. At the time, those who hung out around cafés were men between their late 20s to their late 40s, and back then whenever I would pass by a café where a group of men would be sitting and sipping coffee with their cigarettes, I would always think about them as `men at work’. Nowadays the situation has changed a bit but the basic underlying concept that most men don’t work whereas most women do, is still apparent to anyone who ventures outside early in the morning, where most of the street cleaners are women in their late 50s (or at least they appear to be in their late 50s) and almost the whole economy seems to be `feminized’. In this respect I always wondered that, if women in Armenia decide to go on a strike, how would the country avert a virtual economic stand still. So long live women in Armenia!

To further exemplify the disparity between men and women, I would like to bring a recent example. Having planned to get a new desk for the apartment I live in, I made arrangements with a neighborhood furniture maker. The item was promised to be delivered and set up in 3 days (which didn’t happen) and when five days later three men did show up to install the desk, I was shocked when one of them asked me if I had an electric drill for them to work with. Needless to say it took them about 8 days to not install the desk, at the end of which I had to ask them to stop the `work’ and leave. With an ironic twist, it was right at the time that wood people were `installing’ the desk that I made arrangement with a dry cleaning service to come pick up some items that needed washing and ironing. At the agreed time a woman got to the apartment, took out the clothing I had put in a plastic bag and put all of them in the company’s bag. She took out a receipt with three copies, stapled one of them to the bag gave me the other one and kept the third one for her records. The whole procedure took only 10 minutes and it was conducted with utmost professionalism. Of course to be honest I have to admit that one should not generalize that all men are unprofessional. But percentage-wise there are far more women who are able to get through their duties with minimum hassle. The abovementioned incident reminded me why two years ago when I left Armenia I was proudly labeling myself (yet another manifestation of egoism on my side to give magnificent labels to myself) a feminist.

Remaining within the sphere of gender comparison, one of the other things I noticed while walking around Yerevan, is the amount of fashion-awareness among the new generation of women. Whereas two years ago one would always see most women (and even some men) wearing platform shoes, now it seems that women have leapt forward exponentially in the fashion department, yet again outmaneuvering the men, whose sense of fashion has been minimally developed to change from wearing dark colored pants and shirts to... less dark ones.

I believe that the reason why there are disparities between women and men is mostly because the women are more adaptable and more determined to make things better. A woman with an engineering degree would become a cleaning lady if there are no other options for her, but a man could seldom convince his ego to do such a `low-level’ job. I also believe that our forefathers have known about this and that is why they have coined many of Armenia’s national symbols as feminine entities such as mayr Hayasdan, mayr Arax etc. And with a final twist, the statue that stands guard over Yerevan is also one of a woman with a sword (definitely a highly empowered woman).

To finish up this section, I am slowly realizing that I have moved from a timeline approach to an issue approach (I wonder if it is yet another manifestation of my laziness). It seems that talking about issues around a cup of coffee (men at work?) rather than about a chronology better fits the Armenian character, and if I don’t succumb to total laziness or be asked not to write anymore (same result without the 'lazy’ label), I intend to proceed thematically rather than chronologically. Now off to a café to yet another meeting!

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